Review by Archetypo
"Two steps forward, one step back"
I am cut from a cloth that truly enjoys a game that is challenging, and I am of a breed that eats through the Ikaruga's and Shinobi's of this world like a chain chomper through princess peach. This game isn't THAT hard. It's hard enough to be fun and challenging. So first, giving this game a bad review due to its difficulty doesn't make sense.
Seconly, reviewers picked on the game's Haven City area, which is Jak 2's hub. This area functions very much like a Grand Theft Auto game. You can jack cars and shoot bystanders. Some of the missions involve picking stuff up and dropping it off or racing withing a time limit. The streets are cryptic and maze like. From a purely gameplay perspective this area is almost more interesting than the mighty GTA itself. However its major shortcoming delves deeper into the heart of Jak 2's story lacking soul and its resounding aesthetic incoherency, which for me is the real knock on this game. But giving this game a bad review because of Haven City doesn'k work for me, since the gameplay works well.
The action/platforming stages are like milk from a mothers breast feeding her newborn. They flow and carry on a legacy of gaming goodness. It says a lot that when playing these levels you totally forget how lame Jak and Daxter are as characters, and how out of place they seem with the rest of the game world. It's like Naughty Dog figured out some larger than life synthesis of Nintendo and Sega gameplay. You have the intense action and swarming enemies a Sega fan might dig alongside cleverly designed stages as a Nintendo fan can appreciate. For good measure throw in a nice assortment of guns and a few special moves using dark eco. Going between these stages and the driving missions can get kind of surreal after a while in a way where you don't realize the sun is rising and it's already 'tomorrow' and you've been playing all night. Anybody who nit picks about the gameplay and level design should be pimp slapped.
The characters, story, and theme of the game don't stretch so well into an entire city, and at times seem oddly matched. The Haven hub is not nearly as interactive as anything from a Mario or Zelda game. For that matter, neither are the platforming/shooting stages. However, most of the missions are indeed platforming/shooting oriented, and those are all exquisite due to masterful level design and intense shooting action. It's just that in the hub area all the people walk around stupidly, don't say anything, and the city generally lacks the character that a Grand Theft Auto or Shenmue fan may have grow accustomed to.
The gameplay mechanics in the driving and platforming/shooting areas are quite sound, though. I had a slight problem with the feeling that this game was some battle course to buzz through and not an organic world which has stuff going on that is logical to interact with, but is that really the point here?
There is a lgood deal more drama in Jak 2, as cinematics set missions up GTA style and occasionally cut in to frame the action Metal Gear style, and they often serve accentuate how odd a character Daxter really is. I don't think he belongs in this style of game. Jak is a tinsy stretch as well, but Daxter really does NOT make the cut. Naughty Dog's games have evolved beyond this type of character.
Also, the other NPC's are bad enough to be embarassing if I was a Naughty Dog employee. They should study games like Baulders Gate or Kotor, and maybe add some interactivity to these characters, and they should spend a little more time on the next sequel to ensure the environments are more interactive. This aspect is the games truly glaring flaw and if I was to give this game a bad review it would be because I sometimes struggle to stomach the character design and scripting of cinematic sequences, and find that mixed with the lack of small interactive details makes the game's disparate elements seem jagged and less than organic.
The graphics look good in still pics, but in motion they are rough around the egdes. It's a good thing the gameplay's so nice you won't hold that against it. The structures throughout these environments are geometrically complex, and lets just say these textures are minimalist, but they are very effective just the same.
Some parts of the game are impressive enough since they are designed to promote fun gameplay, and are effective towards that end. Sometimes when you turn quickly things stutter a tinsy bit. This surpised me since in Jak and Daxter 1 that never happens. Maybe these graphics are over rated, but at the same time I'm certainly not complaining, since they do the game justice. This is a big step up from Ape Escape 2!
The music was criticized by a few reviewers, but I tend to say that's in the eye of the beholder, although the sound design in general could have been better, as one off remarks and music are repeated quite a bit. I didn't mind the music myself, but some of it could have used one more coat of polish.
What this game lacks in refinement it makes up for in bold and largely successful design strokes. It's almost like the Legend of Zelda's bastard son who eschews Zen culture and haiku for cheep booze and AC/DC. Zelda: Wind Waker certainly felt more focused and elegant. It's design was a few notches beyond what this game offers. While this game is incessantly compared to GTA I actually think the Zelda comparison is much more appropriate; in the hub you can jack people, but the driving missions are more like Zelda: WW missions on the sea going around collecting stuff mixed with GTA cops and robbers faux pac man action. And the action/platforming missions could be compared to Zelda's dungeons, except the gameplay is tuned to a pitch more in line with Sega's Shinobi and trademark Naughty Dog platforming. Heck, if you just want some mind numbing action you might prefer this game, but ultimately Zelda's game world is much more organic and holistic. Going into all the different buildings and meeting all the NPC's in LOZ: WW GREATLY enhances that game, where as here that stuff almost kills it. And LOZ: Wind Waker is toys with all sorts of interactive design stuff makes you slip into the game, just like cutting at the grass and rocks and juping off ledges onto buildings. Here they skimped on some of those details, but at the same time that keeps you moving along, and the missions are very focused and done well, so perhaps that wasn't a bad allocation of resources on their part. Also using the hoverboard with its Tony Hawk like moves, and blasting away with enemies using guns works to my liking. All these little things add up to some great gaming moments that refuse to let me bash this game outright.
This isn't GOTY, but maybe a sequel would be if they figure out a way to kill off Daxter.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/22/03
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